Would have benefited from the guillotine…
😐 😐 😐
While taking part in a charity parachute jump, vicar Tom Christmas (yes, that’s right, Father Christmas) injures his ankle and is forced to stay with friends in the nearby manor house of Eggescombe Hall. This means he’s on hand to do a bit of amateur detecting when one of his fellow guests is found murdered in the middle of the labyrinth in the ground of the hall. Well, he couldn’t leave it up to the somewhat incompetent duo of Detectives Blessing and Bliss, could he? (Yes, that’s right, Blessing and Bliss!)
This is a fairly cosy murder mystery with a country house setting, well written and with a good deal of light humour. Had it been roughly half the length, it would have been a very enjoyable read. Unfortunately it is so padded with unnecessary description and a huge cast of characters, most of whom are merely there to fill up space, that I found it a real struggle to get through. It took me about a third of the book to get the main characters sorted in my mind and even at the end I found I was still having to think back to work out who hated who and why. Partly that’s because there are so many Lords and Ladies, all referred to sometimes by name and sometimes by title; partly it’s because several of the characters don’t really develop much of a distinctive personality until quite late on; and partly it’s because most of the suspects (and the victim) are so unpleasant that I didn’t really care whodunit. To add to the problems, there is also a sub-plot which clearly carries over from previous books and is referred to on and off throughout, but it isn’t until near the end that we are told what happened before, meaning that this is a constant frustration and distraction for anyone coming new to the series.
There are good points. Tom himself is a very well developed character, and much less twee than his name suggests. We mainly get to know Tom’s avidly curious housekeeper through the very funny letters she writes to her mother, which provide an on-going (and much-needed) summary of the plot so far every now and again. The plot hangs together fairly well, although it is pretty far-fetched, and there are plenty of suspects and red herrings. But overall, there is just too much of everything, and there were several points where I could have cheerfully given up.
I suspect that there is a good book in there struggling to get out but, for me, it didn’t make it. However, I feel the series has potential in terms of the writing and Tom Christmas as a character, if only Benison (yes, that’s right, Benison!) can work out how to apply a much tighter focus…and get rid of the silly names.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House.